It's been more than a month since Tony Hart, 26 and the man in blue for the Roseau Police Department, first thought he had the flu. 'I'd had a cough for maybe a month or so,' he said last weekend. Maybe it was the flu, or maybe it was pneumonia. His mom, Colleen Wilson of Baudette – Nee Dahlquist of Wannaska – suggested around Christmas that he see a doctor at the clinic in Roseau.
Even sick, Tony looks healthier than the majority of us. The kind of question he usually gets asked is, 'Where do you buy your clothes? Ace Tent and Awning?' Look, he's 6 feet 5 and 300 plus pounds, and this was something he thought he could whip on his own. But he followed his mom's advice. Sure enough, the doctor prescribed medication for his bronchitis. The problem was, he didn't get any better. If anything, he felt weaker. By now, he didn't need any further prompting. He returned to LifeCare Medical Center for blood work and a chest x-ray. The chest x-ray was the clincher. Some clincher! If only it had been pneumonia that had showed up in the x-ray, he'd be way ahead.
The problem was, it was his heart, which showed up enlarged in the chest x-ray. Here's what Tony did right after the doctor told him that he would have to travel by ambulance to Grand Forks. He drove over to Polaris to get his mother, who works on the line. They then drove back to LifeCare so she could drive his car to Grand Forks. But she was in no shape to drive. Not after he had told her that a virus was eating his heart. The medical term is viral cardiopathy. How could she drive? 'I was a puddle,' she said last weekend. 'My sister, Julie Wahlstrom, drove.'
Last weekend, she recalled a week ago Wednesday when Tony was taken by ambulance to Grand Forks and how he and his twin brother, Andy, did everything together – sports and even choosing the same career. Andy is a cop in Thief River Falls. The entire family, including her parents, Leland and Marilyn Dahlquist were shortly en route to Grand Forks. Three days later, everyone knew the score: Tony has 20 percent heart function. 'he needs our prayers for sure,' said his maternal grandmother, Marilyn Dahlquist, last Saturday. 'If his heart doesn't improve in the next few weeks,' she said, 'then he'll be placed on the list for heart transplants.'[image2]
By last Saturday, Tony had been discharged from the hospital and was resting at Andy's apartment in Thief River Falls. Which was fitting. They always do everything together, and Andy is a trained EMT. That's really important because an EMT has to be with Tony 24/7 until January 28.
This past Monday, while Tony was en route to Roseau with family member, Roseau Chief of Police Ward Anderson talked about his employee of one year. 'He is a very good officer and even volunteered to serve on the Planning Commission,' he said. 'We've been so happy with Tony here.' Ward explained that the people who volunteer to stay with Tony had the toughest workout since he left town. Some of his relatives were already cleaning out his refrigerator. The first to go was the remaining pizza slices. No more pizza. He's on a strict diet, in addition to all his medications. 'For breakfast, I have a bowl of Cheerios, ' he said, mentioning that lunch is similarly slim pickings and supper is a chicken breast and a baked potato. If there was a container of sour cream in his fridge, it wasn't there for long. Nearby was his twin brother and fiancée, Brittney, but you couldn't miss Andy. He's also a very big man. 'The boys didn't roughhouse at home,' said their stepfather, Bill Wilson.
This past Monday afternoon, Tony was equipped with a heart monitor for 24 hours. Until he sees his heart specialist, Dr. Pallares, in Grand Forks, he has to lay low. And that's the toughest part of his illness. He can't work. 'I absolutely love my job and miss it already,' he said. He mentioned how much he likes Roseau and the people. But there was no sadness in his apartment on Monday afternoon. He smiles easily and often. He almost looks healthy until he starts coughing a deep cough.
Then you remember what Grandpa Leland Dahlquist had said earlier. 'It's quite a shock, but this can happen,' he said last Saturday. 'The damage is kind of irreversible.' Big Tony Hart knows and he's hoping for the best. The best scenario is that his heart is repairing itself. If not, the next course will be surgically implanting a defibrillator to shock his heart into normal rhythms. The worst scenario, if there is no improvement, is a pacemaker to keep him alive until he receives a heart transplant once his name is on the list. The big guy has one thing going for him even in the worst case scenario – his good general health and his youth. But he will continue to have medical bills, none of them small, and that's where the rest of us can make a difference in addition to our prayers.
The Tony Hart Fund, a savings account, has been established at Citizens State Bank in Roseau. You can make a difference for a terrific, young man. Walk in and make a donation , or mail it to Citizens State Bank in care of the Tony Hart Fund, at 118 Main Avenue S, Roseau, MN 56751.
Family, friends, teammates, and caring Viking Fans can also visit his CaringBridge site. To visit his site CLICK HERE.